Two weeks after I quit a perfectly good job to start a jazz record company -- with a solid plan, high hopes and a long list of potential investors -- my wife announced she was prognant.
We had planned "JazzAmerica Marketing" (JAM) for a year before taking the big step. We would live on my wife's salary and a little consulting work I had lined up, for as long as it took to raise the several hundred-thousand dollars necessary to launch my dream.
I was convinced I could reach a large, untapped market for jazz, surely the most inventive and original music ever credited to American ingenuity. Jazz, I thought, was the natural progression for a whole generation that had outgrown rock 'n' roll. I could reach this market, I theorized, if I could get music buyers to try just one or two high-quality jazz records -- on my label, of course. Then they would come back for more.
Suddenly, there was a snag. It was March, and the baby was due in November. I had less than six months to organize the business or find another way to support my family.
I started my quest in a back bedroom at home with a newly installed business phone, a box full of offering circulars and a legal pad crammed full of prospects for investment.
A funny thing happens when you start to call friends and associates to invest in a new business, however exciting the possibilities. They either just this week took a bath in soybean futures, all their kids' teeth suddenly went crooked at once, or they just put their last few thousand bucks into a vacation paradise on the Amazon River.
As my wife shed her jeans in favor of tent-like dresses with no waistband, I kept telling myself that the idea was sound: the record business was a $9 billion-a-year industry worldwide; jazz represented only about 4 percent of the industry, so the big record companies weren't paying much attention; the managers and producers I had lined up (waiting for me to raise the money) could bring more than 30 years of experience to help me complete successfully for the $350 million or so that represented worldwide jazz sales.
My pitch to investors lost no enthusiasm in the telling, even after hundreds of cold calls and dozens of presentations: We could make excellent jazz records. I related, for a fraction of the cost of any other music. If we chose projects carefully and promoted our records and artists aggressively, we could eventually create a label consumers could trust, unlike the existing thousands of under-promoted jazz records in a typical retail store that confuse potential buyers and scare them away.
Summer waned and my wife began to waddle. After almost five months of confidence-draining rejections, rethinking strategies, revising the business plan to make it more suitable to investors, and juggling household bills, the breaks finally started to come.
Three investors signed up early in September, but 14 were needed. I was elated, and too committed to turn back, even though my wife's last day at work was less than eight weeks away.
After months of negotiating, a big investor came in from California; the addition of this hard-nosed businessman made JazzAmerica suddenly attractive to several fence-sitters. One by one, they joined up.
In mid-October, my lawyer convinced two of his partners and his father to join my great adventure. They were the last, and the deal was done.
The baby and my first album, "Jimmy McGriff's City Lights," were produced within 48 hours of each other in December. The baby is doing great. I wish I could say the same for the record.
However, of three albums we released on the "JAM" label last March, two far exceeded our sales expectations; all were critically well received, and one, "Farewell to Mingus" by the Akiyoshi-Tabackin Big Band, unbelievably was nominated for a Grammy.
Our newest releases are in the record stores, and we've recently opened the Ibex Club, a new jazz venue on Georgia Avenue NW that we hope will help spread the word about jazz, and about JAM.
Successful promoters share several common traits: they take enormous risks, they are hopeless dreamers, and their dreams often become obsessions. The same, of course, can be said of fools.
Thirteen Washingtonians and a man in California hope time proves me to the be the former.